Every day I hear people complaining about their stress-levels, about how busy they are and how they are affected by stress headaches, stomach problems, irritated bowel, fatigue, pain in the joints, etc.
For years I suffered from tensions in the jaw, skull and neck. Even though I appeared relaxed on the outside, I couldn’t hide the stress at night. I spend years sleeping with clenched teeth and used to wake up in the morning with pain in my teeth and jaw, because I had clenched so hard.
After a couple of years it really impacted my whole jaw and skull and tensions spread out to my neck and shoulders. Leaving me tense all the time. Once the problem got troublesome (one day I woke up and couldn’t open my jaw anymore because of a permanent muscle cramp and it hurt like hell!), I finally decided to do something about it and get help. I tried many things and what helped me most was fascial therapy (relieves soft tissue restrictions that cause pain). But even though, the therapy worked miracles, the tensions kept coming back.
As long as I didn’t work on myself and the underlying causes of the tensions, they would keep coming back. My body was clearly communicating to me and I was finally ready to listen. So I started changing my everyday routine step by step.
Integrating short meditations, mindfulness, yoga and a healthy diet were the things that really created long-lasting effects.
In this post, I’m going to share which foods will help you reduce stress and tension and which ones are absolutely to be avoided when you have stress-linked health issues.
When you are stressed, your body releases the hormones cortisol, insulin, and ghrelin, which trigger feelings of hunger and also cravings for unhealthy foods, notes Harvard Medical School. If the stress continues, those hormones remain elevated, increasing levels of another hormone called leptin, which helps your body recognize when it’s full. These hormonal changes can raise your risk for a condition called leptin resistance, which November 2010 research in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism shows is linked to obesity.
So it’s normal to crave for unhealthy food when you are stressed, but the snacks won’t do you any good. They will not regulate the hormonal imbalance on the long run. They will just give you a peak in energy (insuline peak) that will drop again shortly after and will leave you depleted even more. And above the fact that it doesn’t “cure” your stress levels, it creates other health issues linked to unhealthy eating habits, such as diabetes type 2, obesity, digestive problems, skin problems, chronic illnesses, etc.
What you actually want to do in those moments, is grab for healthy snacks that will bring the balance back in your body.
Take bananas, for example, they are packed with potassium. Potassium will boost your dopamine, which is a feel-good hormone. Nuts are also a very healthy, stress-reducing snack. They are packed with healthy fats and vitamins. The healthy fats (to be found in avocados as well) give you a feeling of saturation. Moreover, they give you a healthy, smooth skin and are very beneficial to your overall health, bowel and immune system.
If you are craving sugar, then go for a piece of very dark chocolate (65-70% dark, for example). The chocolate will help lower the cortisol levels, also known as the stress hormone.
I’ve now just been discussing snacks, but what about all your meals? Well, if you want to feel energised, healthy and be less impacted by stress, then you should include a lot of leafy greens and green vegetables into your diet. They are packed with magnesium, that contributes to muscle relaxation and lowers cortisol. And the foliate in its turn increases dopamine.
You also want to add healthy fats to your diet, combined with lots of mineral water. If you crave something different than plain water, then add some flavour to your water, by putting a slice of lemon into your bottle. Watermelon, mint, cucumber, basil, raspberries are also healthy options to flavour your water. Another option is green and white tea.
As I mentioned in my sugar-detox article, green tea takes away your craving for sugar. So it is a very interesting option! If your body is not used to drinking lots of tea, then don’t overdo it. Alternate tea with herbal infusions, such as chamomile, thyme, red fruit infusion, mint tea, etc. The herbs in the infusion, as well as the heat of the drink, will soothe your stress instantly.
But please, do not underestimate the importance of water!! We often drink too little water per day and science has shown that even mild, unnoticeable dehydration causes your stress levels to rise. It’s quite logical if you think about it: our body consists of at least 80% of water! So if your body gets a signal that it is dehydrated, then it goes into a state of stress (survival!).
May I point out that alcohol and coffee don’t count as water or hydrating substances?! Coffee will create more nervousness, anxiousness and only increases the rush in your blood causing the stress. Alcohol will dehydrate your body and your brain. And although a lot of people grab a glass of alcohol after work to soothe their nerves, on the long run the use of alcohol will only make you prone to depression and it will not lower your stress!
To make it easier for everyone, I’ve drawn up a meal plan for one week to help you get started.
A lot of the recipes on this meal plan are not on my blog yet. I will put as much of the recipes as possible online this week. Some recipes are also easy to find on Google or Pinterest. The humus and red beet dressing can be found here. And the homemade granola can also be found on this blog. There is also a recipe for the sunflower and mushroom pâté and for the Thai red curry. Of course any meal on the meal plan can be substituted with other recipes on my blog.
Come back soon for the rest of the recipes, and let me know how the shift to stress-lowering food has helped you! All comments welcome!
Have a relaxing day,